Insider: Lee hoping for another solid week at Midland to put his season on right track

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Lee has won (2011) and finished runner-up (2012) at the WNB Golf Classic.
April 10, 2013
Jeff Shain,

Midland Country Club provided no sort of comfort zone for Danny Lee on Wednesday.

“It’s freezing outside,” Lee said as cold winds sent folks at the WNB Golf Classic scrambling for winter gear to combat wind-chill readings in the 30s. “It’s amazing how the weather changes in one day.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, the thermometer hovered around 90 degrees – far closer to what Lee encountered last September as he nearly became the first man to win the same Tour event in back-to-back years.

West Texas weather, though, is far less predictable in the spring. Lee simply hopes that he’ll be treated as kindly on this visit – though he can’t seem to put his finger on why he plays Midland CC so well.

“I don’t think it fits my eyes,” he said. “But for some reason when I hit a bad shot, I end up in not such a bad spot to hit into the green. I think my bad shots have a way of not ending up in such bad places.

“I guess this course really likes me or something.”

Another good week would position the former U.S. Amateur champion solidly back on the path toward a PGA TOUR return. He now stands 18th on the Tour money list, with top-10 finishes in two of his past three starts.

Last week in Brazil, Lee topped the chart after each of the first two rounds before weekend slippage left him in a tie for 10th.

“I think I’ve got to be more patient, let the putts drop,” he said. “I’m still trying to not get frustrated out there. But I do get frustrated, and I’m working very hard on that. Hopefully I’ll get it shortly.”

Lee got his first taste of the PGA TOUR last year, but recorded just three top-25 finishes in 26 starts as the schedule’s demands took a physical toll.

“I wasn’t getting a lot of practice in,” he said. “I was more worried about getting really tired and not playing much. I think I didn’t put much effort into my game. That kind of stuff really didn’t help me.”

Lee nearly got a second year through q-school finals, falling one stroke shy as he tried to storm back from a rocky start that left him tied for 150th after two rounds.

Still just 22, Lee certainly couldn’t be considered behind any sort of learning curve. Yet in some minds, there’s a tendency to feel like he’s spun his wheels a bit after his big introductory splash four years ago.

The Korean-born Lee became the U.S. Amateur’s youngest champion when he won the 2008 title at Pinehurst, eclipsing none other than Tiger Woods in the record book.

Six months later, he became the youngest to win a European Tour event when he captured the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia. Lee still lists that triumph as his greatest thrill in golf.

He also admits that those days “seem like a very, very long time ago. It seems like a hundred years ago.”

With those victories, he said, came raised expectations. None were tougher than his own, even as he tried to adjust to the tougher setups found week-to-week at the pro level.

“Every golfer comes to an event not just trying to finish in the top 10,” Lee said. “Every golfer comes to an event thinking he can win the golf tournament. I don’t think we can ever avoid that. I’ve just got to figure out how to become a more consistent player.”

A change in caddies seems to have provided a boost. Fellow New Zealander Jason Laing, himself a former Tour player, has been working with Lee on taking a more conservative approach. 

“When I was young, I’d always been an aggressive player,” he said. “When I tried to play conservative, it never really worked – actually played worse. But it seems like as my body’s gotten bigger and I’ve been out here – still not a long time – but my game needed to change a little bit.”

Lee can still be streaky aggressive. His 7-under-par 64 in the opening round of the Colombia Championship matched the course record, but he failed to break par in the next three rounds. In Brazil, he opened with a pair of 65s but didn’t break 70 on the weekend.

Lee, in fact, leads the Tour with a scoring average of 67.9 before the cut. On weekends, though, he falls to a 71.5 average.

“We’re working on mental stuff,” he said. “It’s definitely not easy when things start not going well. You hit a good shot and end up in the wrong spot, it really makes you disappointed or angry.

“It’s improving, but I want to have it right now. That’s the problem, I guess. I want everything to be perfect right now, instead of later.”

Call it the impatience of youth. By the same token, Lee can take heart that there are plenty of seasons left ahead of him.